juicy honeydew

Melon divination

5 August 2014

A melon purchase is a commitment in a way that buying an apple, say, is not. A mealy apple can be philosophically tossed, but a mealy watermelon is a sloppy, head-shaking disposal project.

Summer is the season to practice melon-picking skills, since your risk of getting a total dud is low. Even so, shipments vary in quality, so the first thing to do is scan the melons to see if they look like a good batch. Even the best of a green or overripe batch is probably marginal, so you’ll want to find a good group first and then pick the best of the bunch.

Conventional melon wisdom – buy a heavy, hollow-sounding one – never helps me. Maybe I have a bad ear, but watermelon-thumping leaves me confused. And melons all seem pretty heavy, so gauging relative weight never gives me confidence either. I rely on visual clues for watermelons and a mix of look and scent for thinner-skinned melons like honeydew and cantaloupe.


  • Dull rind – Watermelons turn from shiny to dull as they ripen.
  • Field spot – A yellow or creamy underside indicates the watermelon ripened on the vine.
  • Rough tracks – My mom, melon-picker extraordinaire, swears that rough brown/tan scars on an otherwise smooth and firm melon indicate sweetness. I don’t know what causes them (they are sometimes called bee stings, though it would take some giant stinger to make it through a watermelon rind), but my mom’s record of supersweet, well-scarred melons has made me a believer.

watermelon marks

Here’s a yellow field spot:

yellow field mark watermelon

The ultimate sign of a good watermelon is when I stick my knife in and the whole melon cracks wide open. This almost never happens, so when it does, it’s like winning the melon jackpot.

watermelon halved


  • Waxy rind – Ripe honeydews have a smooth, tacky feel, while underripe melons have a light fuzz.
  • Creamy yellow – Honeydews get more yellow and less green as they ripen.
  • Rough tracks – The more, the better. Tracks on a honeydew are beige/tan.
  • Stem end – The smell test works better on a cantaloupe, but the stem end of a ripe honeydew should also have a sweet fragrance. Also if you push the stem end and feel a bit of give, that’s also a good sign.
  • Honeydew melons get softer and juicer with time, so you can leave them out at room temperature until ready to eat. The melon should get more fragrant as it softens, but if you wait too long the flesh turns transparent and nearly dissolves into juice.


halved honeydew

juicy honeydew


  • No stem – Cantaloupes naturally separate from their stems when ripe, so a stem attached indicates the cantaloupe was cut off before ripe.
  • Gold color – Skin under the netting should have an underlying gold/orange tone, not green.
  • Surface – A ripe cantaloupe will have an even, raised tan netting texture over the surface. Cantaloupes continue to soften after picking, and a dented surface indicates the melon is overripe.
  • Fragrance – A ripe cantaloupe should have a perfumey sweet smell – fresh and not moldy. Cantaloupes also become more fragrant as they soften, but if you see the surface becoming dented, the melon is getting overripe and should be cut and eaten or refrigerated.

Giveaway winners

Thank you all for your wonderful comments – it is such a joy to hear from you. I’ve been limping along a little here in year 4 with the house and the move, but I am really energized for year 5. Thanks for hanging in here with me!

The random winners for my 4th anniversary giveaways are Misscali (#29), Marie (#16), Kathy (#18) and the one and only molly yeh (#27 – yeh!). Congratulations to all – happy shopping with your Amazon gift certificates!

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Alice 5 August 2014 at 10:58 am

Thanks for the great tips! I have never been successful in picking out watermelons. I could never hear the difference in sounds when “thumping” the watermelons either. I will definitely try out your methods, wish me luck!


Alice 5 August 2014 at 8:01 pm

I couldn’t wait to try out your tips and a couple of watermelons at Costco. I already cut one open and it is fantastic!!! I am really hoping that the second one is just as good when I cut that one in a few days. WooHoo!


cg 6 August 2014 at 9:09 am

hi alice – yipee! hope the second is as good as the first! thanks for letting me know. =)


Alice 9 August 2014 at 7:49 pm

Thank you again for the wonderful tips – it worked every time for watermelons. I’ve bought 4 of them since reading this post. 2 for my friend and 2 for my family. 3 were great and I am sure when we cut open the 4th one – it will be fantastic too!
I didn’t buy any honeydew or cantaloupe since they didn’t fit into what your tips suggested. Phew – dodged that bullet.


cg 10 August 2014 at 11:35 am

hi alice – so funny, the watermelon i just bought was only okay, despite its good signs. no guarantees with nature! i am really glad your track record has been great – makes me feel better about mine. ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks for sharing back!

Megan 5 August 2014 at 12:33 pm

Such good tips! I rely solely on smelling them, except in the case of watermelons, when I just look for the field spot and hope for the best. Or buy one that’s already been cut in half, so that I can poke at the top. (Only the crispiest ones will do!) This has been a great year for melon. Cutting into a stinker…that’s a sad thing, there.


cg 6 August 2014 at 9:16 am

hi megan – it is nice to be able to see the inside on a cut one, but the whole ones are fresher and cheaper. trade-offs!


Megan 9 August 2014 at 4:40 pm

So true! I’ve been swayed by thrift many times this summer — another reason I’m thankful it’s been a good season. ๐Ÿ™‚


Lily 5 August 2014 at 12:40 pm

My husband recently bought the most tasteless watermelon… which was especially disappointing because the watermelon just before that was a $2 flavor bomb purchased from a pick-up truck at the side of the road. No kidding, not five minutes after forwarding this post to him, he went out to go buy a watermelon. We’ll see how he does!


cg 6 August 2014 at 9:14 am

oooh…hope it worked out!!!


Carol at Wild Goose Tea 5 August 2014 at 5:27 pm

Thank you!!! I needed this reminder. I chose a dud for a cantaloupe a week ago. I was sooooooooo disappointed.


cg 6 August 2014 at 9:12 am

hi carol – i know, i can’t throw anything away, so i feel like i have to eat it, even if it’s not that good. but it gives me even more incentive to pick a good one! hope these tips help you next time.


Belle 13 August 2014 at 12:54 pm

I buy fruits to include in my juicing. I have yet to buy a sweet watermelon this summer. The last few ones I bought were very juicy but not sweet. I followed the thumping and weighing techniques but was not successful in picky the sweet ones. On the other hand, I do look for roughy etches on honeydews and cantaloupes and they are always sweet. I just can’t seem to find watermelons with these marks.


cg 30 August 2014 at 5:06 pm

hi belle – i hope you’ve had better luck! thanks for sharing.


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